Amid all the planning and scheming is House Do'urden, a noble house struggling its way up the ladder of Menzoberranzan's power structure. Lolth's statutes decree that one house may attack another, but the destruction must take place within a single night, and the rival house must be utterly destroyed. As long as the first condition is met, no other houses may interfere in the war. The second condition must be met, for if any member of the besieged family lives to the next morning, they may demand retribution from the city's Ruling Council. So, bargains must be made.
House Do'urden makes such a bargain with one of the city's most skilled wizards, the Faceless One. Dinin Do'urden, secondboy of House Do'urden confirms the payment of his family's matron, Malice Do'urden, in exchange for the death of one Alton DeVir, a low level wizard living outside his House in The Academy school of Sorcere. Gaining this confirmation, Dinin returns home to the throne room of his mother who is pregnant yet again.
House Do'urden launches its attack on DeVir, pressing every advantage it possesses, both physically in terms of warriors, and psychically in terms of prayers to Lolth. The battle is a virtual stalemate until Lolth grants the prayers of Do'urden over those of DeVir, allowing the psychic defenses of the rival house to fall. In the middle of the carnage can be found Zaknafein, Weapons Master and First Husband of House Do'urden. Zak is the finest swordsman in Menzoberranzan, possibly the best that has ever lived in all of Faerun. He cuts a swath through the DeVir warriors and enters the chapel of House DeVir and slays Matron Ginafae and all her daughters.
Back in the Do'urden chapel, Malice is in the throes of birth pangs, and she delivers her third son, naming him Drizzt. In the hallways of House DeVir, the newborn babe's older brothers complete the slaughter of the DeVir family. When the fighting has subsided, Dinin catches his older brother Nalfein Do'urden
by surprise and stabs him in the back through the heart, taking the position of elderboy in the House. Maya Do'urden
, youngest sister of House Do'urden, senses the death, and stays the hand of her sister Briza Do'urden
just as she is about to strike the sacrificial blow. They deem the spider goddess appeased by the death of Nalfein, and Malice spares the baby. For the first time, they notice Drizzt was born with purple eyes, an extreme rarity among his usually red-eyed species.
Years later, after training by Zaknafein, Drizzt is escorted by his brother (and instructor) Dinin to Melee-Magthere.
By his eighth year, Drizzt is assigned to one of the groups doing practice patrols in the Underdark surrounding Menzoberranzan. In one such assignment, his party is told that a noble child of the First House, a Baenre, has gone missing in the tunnels, and that a group of hook horrors has been spotted. Without warning or instruction from his masters, Drizzt races off into the tunnels alone to effect a rescue. He finds the child crying and surrounded by three of the terrible beasts, and quickly dispatches one of them, but just as quickly looses the element of surprise. Creatures of the Underdark, hook horrors are giant creatures with bird-like beaks, humongous clawed arms, and thick carapaces. Quite mindless, they will attack and eat anything, including a drow child or a fierce warrior. Before Drizzt can gain ground on another of the beasts, it has the child within its clawed arms, and tears the poor girl to shreds. He is attacked by the beast, but is able to drive his scimitars through its heart before it can snap his head off. Meanwhile, the rest of his party "discovers" that the child was no noble drow, but just a wandering orphan or castoff of low house, and therefore meaningless to them. Drizzt, for his part, believes the whole event to have been staged, and is greatly angered by the senseless and useless loss of life. He confronts Dinin, who is one of his instructors, and is told to remember his place. As he begins to protest further, they are interrupted by their sister, Vierna. She has come to warn them to be on their guard, for there are rumors of vengeance against House Do'urden, but from quarters unknown. Presumably, the revenge would be enacted in response to the fall of House DeVir from so many years before.
This is the first that Drizzt has heard of DeVir, and asks who they are. Dinin answers "House DeVir. On the very night you were born, they ceased to exist. An excellent attack, thank you." Drizzt is appalled that his family was responsible for the murder of an entire family, and is warned by Vierna, "Watch your words secondboy, the deed was perfectly executed. In the eyes of Menzoberranzan it never happened." Drizzt also learns that not only was Zaknafein involved in the attack, but that it was his duty to slay the matron and priestesses of DeVir, along with any other children who might have been in hiding. Drizzt is further informed that, as the third-born son of the house, he was to have been sacrificed to Lolth as tradition demanded, but for the blade of Dinin through Nalfein's heart. Vierna tells Drizzt, "You should thank him for that kindness." Dinin and Vierna leave Drizzt alone in his remorse.
Drizzt graduates, and two days later joins Dinin on one of the official patrol groups that kept the caverns safe around Menzoberranzan. In his group with them was Masoj Hun'ett, and a brand new member, the beautiful astral panther Guenhwyvar. Many times Guenhwyvar and Drizzt fought shoulder to shoulder as friends and comrades, much to the chagrin and hatred of Masoj who takes it upon himself to castigate the great cat harshly. Masoj grows worried and hopes that Sinafey will call for his death soon. Weeks later, Dinin announces to his patrol group that they have been chosen for a rare opportunity, a surface raid. There are to travel for many days through the Underdark to the surface, and there raid a group of faeries, or light skinned elves, their mortal enemies. As they depart, Drizzt asks where Masoj and Guenhwyvar are, and he is told that wizards are not allowed on the surface by law, and so the panther will stay behind as well. Approaching the surface, Drizzt feels the breeze for the first time, and when they break into the night sky, he sees the cool radiance of the moon and is drawn to it like nothing else ever before. Within site of the cave opening was a gathering of faeries partaking in a revel to some moon goddess or other. Dinin calls for the attack while Drizzt whispers to himself, "Such creatures as these are not—cannot be evil."
Drizzt stands back in horror as he watches his dark kind, in heart not in skin, as they coldly cut down these bright and shining people who were only moments before dancing and laughing. One of the victims reaches out to him, begging for mercy and help just before she is cut down from behind. When the woman's daughter rushes to the her fallen mother, Drizzt swipes his sword across her, knocking her to the ground. He has not hurt her, however, and whispers to her to stay down. He lies to Dinin and proclaims her dead, causing Dinin to proclaim, "Finally you have learned what it is to be a drow warrior!"
They leave the terrified and crying elf child behind. Drizzt's only consolation is that she will live to see another day. Dinin's next patrol takes them just five miles outside of the city, where they encounter a crew of Svirfnebli, deep gnomes on a mining expedition. Drow and deep gnomes were mortal enemies, and such an encounter could only end in bloodshed. Drizzt tries to dissuade Dinin from attacking, even to the point of suggesting parley, but his rebuked in typical drow fashion. Dinin orders the attack, commanding them to go after the Belwar Dissengulp
first, stating, "He is the key to their strength with the stone."
The rush into the gnomes, taking down the non-working scouts first, then heading for the crew leader. The drow are outnumbered, but ruthless, giving out much more damage than they took. This prompts the leader to grab a jewel and slam it to the ground, creating an earth elemental and commanding it to attack the drow. Drizzt races to the attack, but is struck down. Guenhwyvar, against his master's wishes, rushes in to defend Drizzt and is gravely injured, but buys him the time he needs to recover. As Drizzt climbs up to the creatures head and is about to strike a killing blow, Masoj sends a bolt of lightning into them, hoping to kill both the elemental and Drizzt, making it appear to be an accident. Masoj is then clubbed in the back of the head by the gnome leader, who then moves on Drizzt. Drizzt tells him to go ahead and torture him, but the gnome tells him that is not their way. They capture the gnome, and Dinin orders him killed. As the priestess moves forward to torture the gnome, Drizzt convinces them to allow him to live and go back home to tell the other Svirfnebli of the superiority of drow strength. Dinin likes the idea, but not before the take the gnome leader's hands first. Dinin says, "I want to hear his screams."
Back in Menzoberranzan, two separate matrons are having problems of their own. Malice communes with a yolchol to learn the whims of Lolth, and discovers that there is indeed a plot against her house. When she asks for the name of the house that conspires against them, the yolchol says that Lolth will not answer a question to which the answer is already known. Leaving Malice in a concussive flash, the yolchol has now caused confusion and anger in Malice. Who knows the answer. Across the city, Sinafey is punishing Masoj for his failure to kill Drizzt. The ten days Lolth allowed are nearly gone, and so Masoj begs for another chance. The matron agrees, but he is forced to take the somewhat inept Alton DeVir along with him. Malice gathers he household, and puts the males under the whip trying to get an answer to their riddle. As Dinin is being lashed, Drizzt recalls the treacherous attack of Masoj during the battle with the earth elemental, and informs Malice of the deed. Now they know for certain the identity of House that plots against them, House Hun'ett. Malice calls upon the yolchol again to learn the standing of Hun'ett with Lolth. This time the yolchol is belligerent, saying that the deed of wiping out the gnomes does not offset the Spider Queen's displeasure. When Malice asks why Lolth is displeased with her house, she is again told there will not be a reply to a question whose answer is already know. Malice is left angry and confused once again. She and her daughters set out to discover who in their family has betrayed Lolth, but they already have a chief suspect in mind.
Drizzt eventually evades Dinin and his family's clutches, fleeing into the Underdark just the Houses Do'urden and Hun'ett are going to war.
Ten years later the war between House Do'urden and House Hun'ett is about to come to a head. After years of behind the scenes maneuvering, neither House in favor with Lolth over the other, Hun'ett finally chooses open warfare. Sinafey has hired Jarlaxle Baenre
and his band of mercenaries Bregan D'aerthe. Jarlaxle, as he usually does, has been playing both ends of the conflict for his own benefit, and so comes to see Malice and report his band's progress. Malice has also hired Bregan D'aerthe, using it as an indirect weapon against her enemies, a way to cause damage and trouble without being implicated in the plots. Jarlaxle reports that Dipree, one of the Hun'ett nobles, has been assassinated by his men. The first strike in what is about to be a very short battle has been struck. Before Jarlaxle can exit the Do'urden household, the walls shake and they come under Hun'ett's direct attack. Malice's forces are outnumbered, and so she commissions Jarlaxle once again. When he balks, saying, "Bregan D'aerthe is a secretive group. We do not engage in open warfare,"
Malice easily changes his mind by shouting, "I will pay whatever you desire. Name your price."
With a sly smile—most likely because this was how he planned things all along—Jarlaxle walks out to the Do'urden balcony and looks down on the battle. He pulls a small tin-whistle from inside his hat (which has a pocket dimension inside it) and blows a shrill note. Down below, fully half or more of the "Hun'ett" soldiers respond, and turn on their fellows, giving the advantage of numbers instantly to House Do'urden. Routed, the Hun'ett army turns and flees back to the safety of its home walls. Jarlaxle slyly looks to Dinin and says, "It's a dark day to be a Do'urden, and even worse to be a Hun'ett. But it's an excellent time for mercenaries don't you think?"
Dinin is intrigued, but says nothing. Now that Hun'ett is out of the way, Malice turns her attention back to her wayward son. Briza and Dinin are sent out into the tunnels of the Underdark with a contingent of Do'urden soldiers to search for Drizzt. They are magically tracking him somehow, but Drizzt discovers them on his trail and deduces that it is his House Do'urden emblem that is allowing their trace on him. Drizzt ties his emblem to Guen and sends her in the opposite direction, allowing him to sneak up behind Dinin, knock him out and draw a sword on Briza. She tells him that the war with Hun'ett is over, and lies to say that he can come home and take up the mantle of weapons master of the House. Drizzt refuses and tells them to never seek him out again. This prompts Briza to draw her snake-headed whip on Drizzt, which he quickly cuts to shreds. She then draws her mace to strike, and Drizzt easily ends the battle, cleaving two fingers from her hand. With the advantage, he holds his blade to her neck, and she prods him to strike her dead. To his horror, he nearly does, but relents and levitates away from her and joins Guen in the shadows. "I would have done it,"
he tells Guen. "Despite my vow never to spill drow blood again, I would have killed her. What have I become?"
Back in Menzoberranzan, Malice castigates Briza and Dinin for their failure to capture their renegade brother. When Maya boasts that she could capture him, Dinin scoffs in fear. "Since he left Menzoberranzan,"
he answers, "Drizzt's skills have increased ten-fold."
When asked if Jarlaxle and Bregan D'aerthe would undertake tracking down the boy, but Malice says that they have already refused "not for any price."
Malice reveals another way, and leads her family to the chapel, and calls on a yolchol. In order to right the wrongs caused by her son, Malice asks for zin-carla. Zin-carla is the highest honor Lolth pays to her followers, the animation of the dead under the control of a Matron Mother. Great sacrifice must be made, so Malice chooses to give her patron, Rizzen
, to the slaughter. Malice and her daughters gather around the sacrificial altar, and Shi'nayne—acting as eldest daugher—holds the ceremonial dagger. Malice takes the dagger, holds it over Rizzen, then suddenly thrusts it into Shi'nayne's heart, and the last Hun'ett passes away as a sacrifice to Lolth. The yolchol is pleased, and grants the power of zin-carla. After much meditation and prayer, the soul of Zaknafein is ripped from the afterlife, and placed into his reanimated corpse, but all free will is gone. As a test of her power over him, Malice orders her undead husband to kill Rizzen, an act which he does without hesitation, flinging a dagger into the unfortunate patron's forehead. Malice eventually loses control of Zak, and the zin-carla fails. Zak proclaims his pride for his son one last time. "I do this for us,"
he yells, and casts himself from the earthen bridge and into the acid sea below. Malice screams and blacks out from the mental backlash, and Briza strikes her with her snake-headed whip and claims the throne of House Do'urden. As she does so, Dinin runs into the room and tells them they are under attack. Incredulous, Maya bellows, "Who would dare? House Baenre protects us!"
To which Dinin replies, "No, Maya, House Baenre attacks us." Because of the failure of Malice, Baenre has come to oversee the fall of a House from its pedestal, having earned the severe disfavor of their goddess.
In short order, the Do'urden daughters are killed in the battle. In the Do'urden throne room, Briza is slain by Jarlaxle, who comes to offer Dinin a place among Bregan D'aerthe. Jarlaxle sees an able leuitentant and swordman in Dinin, and would hate to see such a one good to a useless death. So, Dinin Do'urden, newly houseless, becomes a lieutenant of Bregan D'aerthe.